It feels like this was easier when I was younger. You know, before I was so smart about things like intangibles and home-field-advantage.
Every now and then I get the feeling that all of that is just useless. After all, how many times is a result just a matter of which team is better? I used to think that's all that mattered, and often I was correct.
In recent years, I think I've gotten away from that way of thinking too often. It's what caused me to take West Virginia last week. I even started my article last week praising what LSU had accomplished to that point in the season. It's almost as if one person wrote the opening last week and another made the picks.
Well, I'm taking a stand right here, right now. No longer will I side with a team based primarily on intangibles or home-field advantage. There will have to be more behind a pick than that. West Virginia isn't the best example of what I am talking about as it does have a good team, but I'm using that example to show just how caught up one can get in things other than talent and performance.
You won't see a dramatic shift in my selections this week, but over the course of the year, you can bet that several games will be affected by this new, or old rather, train of thought.
Week 4 was not kind to me, but the damage was limited to some extend by a good record in my PASSing thoughts section. Special thanks to Iowa and Clemson for making second-half comebacks last week. On a positive note, the Cream of the Crop picks are now above .500 for the year.
Cream of the Crop (Week: 2-6-0/Season: 12-14-0)
South Florida at Pittsburgh: These teams play in the same conference, and on paper both appear to have a shot at the Big East title. But they are not the same. South Florida is the better team, and home-field advantage, if you want to call it that at Heinz Field, will not matter much when the Bulls start getting physical with the Panthers.
Side: South Florida -2.5
Toledo at Temple: I'm not ready to give up on the Rockets after last week's debacle at Syracuse. For those who didn't see, Syracuse took a two-point lead after scoring a late touchdown that turned into a three-point lead after the extra point. The problem was, the extra point actually was no good, but the refs inexplicably missed it. Toledo subsequently went down the field and tied the game with a field goal instead of taking the lead. We can't be sure how the remainder of the game would have shaken out if the extra point had been called properly, but it's fare to assume that Toledo would have covered the 2.5 spread. Anyhow, the Rockets are getting a big chunk this week against an improving Temple team, but Temple is not quite ready to give up this many points to a good team.
Side: Toledo +7.5
Nevada at Boise State: Somebody is getting payback this week. Boise State's slim national title hopes were dashed last season by Colin Kaepernick and the Nevada Wolfpack. Kaepernick is no longer there, however, and this time, the game is in Boise. Luckily for us that the Broncos let up on Tulsa last week and only won by 20. That result is keeping this number below four scores, which is a perfect number for the Broncos to cover.
Side: Boise State -27
UCLA at Stanford: I'd like to congratulate the UCLA Bruins for playing their butts off last week and earning a win at Oregon State. Their reward is a trip to Palo Alto and a real team. Not just a real team, but a really good team. This week we'll be reminded why Andrew Luck will be pick No. 1 in the next NFL draft.
Side: Stanford -20.5
Texas A&M at Arkansas: Who knows where the collective mindset of the Aggies is right now? For that matter, how about the Razorbacks, who hung in for a while last week at Alabama, but in the end couldn't keep up with the better team. I wouldn't dare touch a side in this game, but the total looks inviting. Texas A&M lost its offense in the second half last week, but you can't keep the Aggies down too long. Both teams will hit pay-dirt several times this week, and this one goes over early in the fourth quarter.
Total: Over 62
Auburn at South Carolina: Neither team has many issues on offense, it's the defenses that have held these teams back. That will again be apparent this week and both teams will run up and down the field all day.
Total: Over 59.5
Best of the Rest (Week: 3-3-0/Season: 17-13-0)
Houston at UTEP: A decent team is almost guaranteed to score at least 30 points on the UTEP defense, a team like Houston should score more than 50. The Cougars, however, have yet to figure out how to stop anyone, and as such, I'll stick with the over, which is at a reasonable spot.
Total: Over 65.5
Utah State at BYU: BYU's win last week over UCF was very impressive, unless you happened to see the game. I left that game with the feeling that the Cougars were extremely lucky to pull that one out. Sure, UCF is a decent team, but at home, in front of a national television audience, I expected a better effort. Utah State is quickly developing a reputation as a pesky out, with two losses by a combined five points this season and this looks like a good spot to jump on the Aggies while they are still getting more than a touchdown.
Side: Utah State +7.5
Northwestern at Illinois: Dan Persa is back in the mix this week, yet the line jumped a point in favor of the Fighting Illini - very fishy. Oh well, I'll bite. Northwestern can certainly keep up with Illinois as long as Persa is in the game.
Side: Northwestern +8
Cincinnati at Miami (Ohio): I witnessed Miami up close and was not impressed. However, the Red Hawks are a scrappy bunch and should fight hard at home this week. The number for Cincy is just too large.
Side: Miami Ohio +14.5
Texas at Iowa State: I'm not sure I'm ready to buy into either one of these teams, but I must admit, both have impressed lately. Texas went on the road and beat UCLA, and Iowa State backed up its Iowa shocker with a road win at Connecticut. OK, so neither team has beaten a great team yet, but you can't complain with the results. Iowa State is the pick here, though, as the Cyclones appear to have a legitimate offense and 9.5 points is a big chunk at home.
Side: Iowa State +9.5
Alabama at Florida: This is going to be a good one. I like Florida, I like what the Gators have done so far this season, but I'm going to take my advice from earlier in the column and go with the better team. It will be a tough spot for the young Alabama quarterbacks, but I expect the Tide to rely heavily on their ground game and pound the ball all day.
Side: Alabama -3.5
Mississippi State at Georgia: Maybe I was wrong about the Bulldogs? I thought I had them pegged properly, but last week's effort at home as a 20-point favorite changed my opinion in a hurry. While MSU appears to be its own worst enemy, the Georgia Bulldogs appear to have snapped out of their funk. Take the 'Dogs as they build off the momentum of a nice road win last week.
Side: Georgia -7
PASSing Thoughts (Week: 4-2-0/Season: 13-9-2)
Minnesota at Michigan: There's a good chance that the Gophers are built to play well as the underdog, and then there's an equally good chance that they are just plain bad. I am starting to lean toward the latter. Michigan has proven capable of blowing out lesser competition this season, and the Gophers certainly fit the bill this week.
Side: Michigan -19.5
Georgia Tech at NC State: I simply don't like the way Georgia Tech struggled to put away North Carolina last week. The Jackets will have to play much better to cover a larger number on the road this week, and they won't.
Side: NC State +9.5
Michigan State at Ohio State: MSU is coming off a bad loss to the Fighting Irish, but that should serve it well heading into Columbus. I'm still not sold on OSU, but I will be if the Buckeyes can win this week.
Side: MSU +3
Arizona at USC: The Wildcats have looked really bad, but let's remember that they've faced the two best teams in the PAC-12 already this season. USC hasn't looked much better as the Trojans have struggled to put anyone away, including Minnesota. This one stays close as I don't think USC can handle a number this large.
Side: Arizona +13.5
Clemson at Virginia Tech: My initial thought on this game was that Clemson wasn't ready for the success. The Tigers have played well two weeks in a row, and this is a perfect spot for a letdown. All that is true, but the number is just a little too high for my liking, so I'll side with the Tigers.
Side: Clemson +6.5
Nebraska at Wisconsin: This number looks too big and when that is the case, I usually give it. This time, however, I am going to side with the 'Huskers, who with T-Mart should be able to keep this one close for a while.
Side: Nebraska +9.5